Seattle Kraken versus Anaheim Ducks
7 p.m. Pacific time
Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle, Washington
TV: ROOT Sports
Radio: AM 950 KJR
As the saying goes, you have to make hay when the sun is shining. Of course, this is November in Seattle, and the sun almost never shines this time of year, but as it pertains to the Kraken, they are in last place and are now entering an uber-important six-game homestand. Sunshine or not, it’s time to make some hay.
The sun does shine in Anaheim this time of year, and it has been particularly bright there in the early stages of this season. A young team, the Ducks are on fire and represent a herculean task for the Seattle Kraken on Thursday.
Coach Dave Hakstol was mostly coy in his morning press availability on Thursday (as he always is) about his lineup plans and indicated there will be a few “game-time decisions” for him and his staff. He did confirm that Jared McCann will play in his first game since entering COVID protocol two weeks ago.
McCann, who has seven points in eight games (3-4=7), is a key piece of the offensive attack for Seattle, and his absence was noticeable. He shared on Wednesday that he was hit hard by COVID, losing his senses of taste and smell, and lacked energy. Wednesday was also his first time back on the ice, so we shall see if he can perform to the best of his abilities Thursday.
In pre-season, McCann centered a dynamic line with Jordan Eberle and Jaden Schwartz that dominated at times. The trio was broken up early in the regular season, though, as Hakstol tried to squeeze goals out of his snake bitten group.
Toward the end of McCann’s absence, Alex Wennberg got slotted between Eberle and Schwartz, at which point Eberle got hot and scored five goals in three games. Interestingly, McCann was back in that spot at practice Wednesday and spoke as if he expects to play with Schwartz and Eberle.
What remains unclear is whether Yanni Gourde will be available Thursday. It is believed he was injured when he blocked a shot with his knee in the first period against Vegas on Tuesday. He did return after that and scored a goal but missed most of the third. He did not participate in practice Wednesday but was on the ice at Thursday’s optional morning skate. UPDATE: Looks like Gourde is in, as is Ryan Donato.
The goaltending has gotten a lot of attention from the fledgling Kraken fanbase of late. Chris Driedger made his first start Tuesday in a 4-2 loss to the Golden Knights after Philipp Grubauer had a tough night in Arizona on Saturday. Neither netminder has particularly impressive stats, but we believe there’s improvement on the horizon for both.
Hakstol stressed Thursday that he doesn’t really care about their save percentages, but he does care about getting timely saves, which can have such a huge impact on the momentum of a game. At key points—like right after a Kraken goal, for example, or in the opening or closing minutes of a period—does Grubauer come up with the big save? Seattle hasn’t gotten that recently, so that will be something to look for as Grubauer returns to the crease against Anaheim.
These aren’t the same Ducks that had become so pleasant to play against in recent seasons. The youth movement that was put in motion several years ago—centered around players like Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry, Maxime Comtois, Sam Steel, and others—is starting to pay off, as Anaheim has gotten off to a great start to its season and sits in third place in the Pacific at 7-4-3.
Of course, the man who started that movement, general manager Bob Murray, has just resigned with allegations swirling about his treatment of those inside the organization and an investigation into his conduct underway. Murray’s fingerprints will remain on this roster for years to come, and while what he did behind the scenes is very much in question, the on-ice product appears to be dramatically improving.
Driving that improvement has been the emergence of Terry, who has been unstoppable in his 13 games played this season. The 24-year-old right winger is third in the league in goals with nine and has added seven assists. He scored the game-winning goal for the second straight game Tuesday in Vancouver, which led the Ducks to their fifth consecutive win.
There’s also been a feeling over the past few years that the rebuild in Anaheim has been wasting an exceptional talent in netminder John Gibson, who is now 28 years old. If this team does prove to be the real deal as the season wears on, Gibson will be a huge piece of the success. Gibson gets the nod Thursday. A shoo-in for Team USA in the upcoming Olympics, he is again proving tough to beat with a 2.34 goals against average and .927 save percentage.
We’re basing this on lines from practice on Wednesday and guessing that Gourde will not play. Of course, this could change dramatically if he does go. UPDATE: With Gourde apparently… Gourde to go, the lines looked very different than they have before in warmups. This is reflected in the projection below.